Syngenta to move labs to U.S.

July 2, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- John Mason, Financial Times, 06/30/04: Large-scale commercial research into genetically modified crops in the UK is to end after Syngenta, the Anglo-Swiss biotechnology company, on Wednesday said it would close its laboratories because of the poor business outlook for the technology.

The company plans to move its research efforts from Jealott's Hill in Berkshire to North Carolina, in the US, where there is a more favorable business and regulatory climate.

"This does not lessen our commitment to biotechnology but we have to have people in places where they have the most impact - and that is in North Carolina," the company said.

The Jealott's Hill research center will continue developing agro-chemicals, receiving $15m of fresh investment. But all biotech work will stop with the loss of 130 jobs, it said.

Syngenta's move, reported in the Times Higher Education Supplement on Thursday dismayed plant scientists throughout the UK who saw the decision as a blow to some academic research.

Syngenta was the last biotech company to retain a significant GM research presence in the UK after decisions by Monsanto, Dupont and Bayer Cropscience to withdraw. It has underpinned much plant science research by universities.

Michael Wilson, a professor of plant biology at Warwick University, told the THES: "Anyone who isn't about to retire will leave the country. We are all feeling, 'what the hell is the point?'

Mike Gale, of the John Innes Center, the leading public sector plant science center, was not surprised, saying Syngenta had been winding down its UK commitment for two years. "The state of applied plant science is not as high as it has been, but in terms of fundamental research we are still strong," he said.

Syngenta stopped short of blaming government policy for its decision to pull out of the UK.

However, the Agriculture and Biotechnology Council, the trade association it belongs to, said lack of government support was a clear factor behind the decision.

Julian Little, a spokesman for the council, said: "The whole industry understands Syngenta's decision. The UK is a difficult place to work."

Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, had made encouraging statements saying GM crops would be considered on a case-by-case basis. However, this had not been backed by action, he said.

Environmentalists welcomed Syngenta's withdrawal. Pete Riley of Friends of the Earth said: "This decision shows the biotech industry misjudged the market in the UK and Europe. Rather than retreat to the US, they should rethink the products they offer sustainable agriculture."


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